Friday, August 13, 2004

Kerry Has Guts to Stop Nuke Waste

Columnist Jeff German - Las Vegas Sun

If the presidential race for Nevada's five electoral votes comes down to Yucca Mountain, which it should, Sen. John Kerry already has won the race.

The difference between Kerry and President Bush on this issue was as clear this week as the bright Southern Nevada sky after a summer rainstorm.

While Kerry, the Democrat, spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Las Vegas hammering home his opposition to Yucca Mountain at public event after public event, Bush, the Republican, let it be known during a single campaign appearance Thursday that he was determined to ram nuclear waste down our throats.

With Gov. Kenny Guinn and other top Republicans at his side, Bush offered no reassurance in a televised speech that he would stop sending the deadliest substance known to man our way. Instead he attempted to poke holes in Kerry's voting record on Yucca Mountain which, any way you look at it, is a zillion times better than the president's. Bush had one vote in 2002 and that was to recommend the project to Congress.

Kerry, on the other hand, whether chatting with local officials at a small town hall meeting or preaching to an overflowing crowd of an estimated 15,000 supporters at the Thomas & Mack Center, stepped up his tough anti-Yucca Mountain talk. And he backed it up with specifics. He appeared much more knowledgeable about the dangers of the project than he did back in May when he first promised that Yucca Mountain would not happen on his watch.

What impressed me the most was not Kerry's campaign rhetoric, but the depth of his opposition, which came into focus during a news conference Wednesday with a half-dozen local journalists.

In a relaxed mood, after addressing a group of friendly seniors in Henderson, Kerry said he's no longer even sure storing radioactive waste at a centralized location is the right way to go. That's a significant statement when you consider that some $20 billion in taxpayer money already has been poured into the still-unfinished Yucca Mountain project.

"The more I've looked at the issue and the more I've learned about it, the less comfortable I am with the concept of a repository," Kerry said.

It's why the Massachusetts senator said earlier during his visit that, as president, he would put the nation's scientists to work to once and for all find the best and safest way to deal with nuclear waste.

More than that, however, Kerry outlined how he would move to kill the dump.

He said he would start by finding an energy secretary and an interior secretary who share his anti-Yucca Mountain vision for nuclear waste. That sounded like an invitation for the likes of former Nevada governors Bob Miller and Richard Bryan, two of the fiercest Yucca Mountain critics, to update their resumes.

Then he said he would not only hold up the Yucca Mountain licensing process, but would also veto any anticipated congressional legislation aimed at lowering the safety standards for storing waste. The legislation is being contemplated by the pro-Yucca forces in Washington to circumvent a federal court decision that said the current standards by law are unsafe.

One thing that could interfere with Kerry's pledge to derail Yucca Mountain is pressure from the wealthy nuclear industry, which is desperate to move nuclear waste from power plants in 33 states. The industry has spread plenty of money around Capitol Hill, winning many friends.

But Kerry appeared undaunted.

When I asked him whether he was concerned about taking heat from the influential industry, he looked me in the eye and said in a confident voice, "I'm not worried about the pressure."

They are the words of a winner.


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